1. The Discourse of the Mirror Stage: Behind the Double Lurks the Real
Sigmund Freud thought of the
“first double of the body”
and of the double in general as a defense against death. “Between two deaths,”
on the other hand, is a metaphor first introduced by Jacques Lacan in his discussion of Antigone in
The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
that refers to a dimension of undeadness.
It connotes that which is not “immortal,” but a-mortal—
that which, though mortal, cannot die.
Hypostasizing the experience of this dimension as something “immortal,” the Aristotelian Christian tradition formed it into the soul as the living principle of the body. With this movement
from the subject to the undead “double” to its transformation into the immortal soul
one can see the circular movement into which the metaphor “between two deaths” is trapped, or which it itself in turn traps.
The “undead” is a-mortal, cannot die, thus it keeps insisting. It cannot be given a place in the order of the living, thus it returns. In Lacanian terminology, this is the real. At the same time, while it is a-mortal, it is also the opposite of the living
of that which exists
even more so than that which is actually dead. It thus is both: that which insists-, does not cease, never comes to an end, and, as such, is in some sense the
of the living; yet, at the same time, it is its opposite, at least from the point of view of the ordered representations we ordinarily call reality. Here we can see the connection of the real to reality
in the final analysis it is as cause. We can also see why it is its opposite: because the real, lacking representation, never appears in reality as such. It neither is given nor finds itself an order; it has no symbolic existence, that is, no name that remains, no space that persists, no place in the calculable and countable. The “double” and its subgenres
such as shifting identities, referencing art-historical greats as the other of one’s artistic “I,” playing roles in performances, taking figures of popular culture as points of reference
have reappeared in contemporary art, particularly in the work of many of the artists in this exhibition, including Sue de Beer, Jutta Koether, Javier Téllez, Rita Ackermann, Brock Enright, and Aïda Ruilova, to name a few.
This can be read as a symptom of being locked in a space between symbolic inscription
the subject is named such and has this place in reality
and the real as cause, as exclusion, as non-existence. However, these artists do not merely show us social or individual role-playing, or the fact of the difference between a role and its performer or a role and its social significance. A certain popularity has been enjoyed in art (and, in Germany, in theater) by the process of showing the gap between subject and “role.” Nothing, of course, was gained by that alone: showing that one plays a role means nothing. We all constantly play roles and know it. What is important is the excess within the role I play, that cannot be reduced to a “role.” Another way to say this is that the Ego is a real object. It also isn’t enough to show the comical difference between those who are able to play their role and those who aren’t, or to show that difference in the same individual between two moments. It’s the very split in each moment which matters and which opens up a horizon of universality.
Thus, it might be much better to assume a role and “mean” it, actually take the embarrassment of being it, rather than reproduce in the audience a sophisticated gaze, splitting role and bearer as if together they produce a whole. The audience owns this gaze already, for it always already knows that roles are just roles. To show this simply reproduces a fantasy, not democracy, as some claim. It merely reproduces the status quo. The bar between sign and signified is real. Even if it is in the imaginary, as object it contains that which insists, which cannot be pacified. In a curious